The 2018 National League MVP was set to bat third and play right field Tuesday night when the Brewers hosted the Minnesota Twins.
Yelich pinch hit on Sunday and struck out in the Brewers’ 1-0 loss to the Texas Rangers.
The lefty-swinging Yelich missed six consecutive games from April 29 to May 4 while dealing with a back issue. He has not been on the injured list this season.
Winners and losers of Stephen Strasburg’s $245 million return to Nationals
Well, the hot stove is officially lit. An eye-popping $245 million deal for ace Stephen Strasburg to return to the Nationals got the fun started on the first day of baseball’s winter meetings in San Diego. As the defending champions bring back their World Series MVP, we asked ESPN.com’s Bradford Doolittle, Sam Miller and David Schoenfield to weigh in on what the deal means for Strasburg, the Nats and the rest of this MLB offseason.
Gut reaction: Do you like this deal for the Nationals?
David Schoenfield: Hey, it’s not my money! This guy just carried your team to a World Series title, but that’s also a very large chump of change for a pitcher who just topped 176 innings for the first time since 2014. There’s nothing wrong with bringing him back and continuing to construct your team around the big three of Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin, but at this price I’d rather have Anthony Rendon and the more predictable outcome of a position player. Of course, it’s also possible that Strasburg stays healthy and has five or six more dominant seasons — much like his teammate Scherzer has done in his 30s. In fact, if Strasburg continues to pitch well throughout this contract, he’s a sleeper Hall of Fame candidate as he does have 112 career wins, 32.6 WAR and a great record in the postseason.
Bradford Doolittle: If it’s a choice between Strasburg and Rendon, I guess I’d have gone for Rendon. But for all we know at the moment, it’s a choice that might not have existed. Strasburg has made about 85 percent of his starts since his first full season after Tommy John surgery, though he’s hit 200 only twice. It’s that lesser track record of durability that separated him from Gerrit Cole in my mind, so I was thinking five or six years for Stras as opposed to seven or eight for the latter. But no one knows him better than the Nats and if they think he’s ready to reel off a string of 15-20 win seasons, then they can figure out the back end of the deal later. Pitchers this good are just so scarce.
Sam Miller: I do. If your owner has a net worth of $5 billion, it’s a lot harder to find a pitcher like Stephen Strasburg than to find a big pile of money.
This is a True Ace contract, and there’s a tendency to overlook just how highly Strasburg ranks among MLB pitchers-partly because he pitches in the same rotation as one of the few superior pitchers in the world, partly because he shares a free agency class with another of them. But over the past three years Strasburg has the seventh-best ERA in baseball (including the postseason), the 12th-most innings, the sixth-most WAR. It’s true that he’s 31; it’s also true that he’s had his two best seasons over the past three years, and from July 1 onward this year he had a 2.51 ERA, including his month against postseason offenses. He hasn’t had a major injury in nearly a decade. He’s on a team that will compete for a postseason appearance and will find that the margin between making and missing October is one Stephen Strasburg.
Who is the biggest winner of Strasburg re-joining the Nationals?
Schoenfield: Obviously, Strasburg. You kept hearing how he’s comfortable in Washington, had bought a house in the area and preferred to remain with the only organization he’s known. The money made it an easy decision. If there’s a ripple effect here, Madison Bumgarner has to be happy. He can now pitch teams that you can get him for half of Strasburg’s contract — and get a pitcher more than half as good.
Doolittle: Gerrit Cole and Scott Boras. My assumption had been that a bat-stuff crazy offer for Cole would end up at something like 8/$280. Now I’m wondering if it ends up 9/$300-plus. Which is nuts. But he’s now a market of one. Of course, while the need for him is ubiquitous, the demand doesn’t exactly correlate because not many teams can play in this arena.
Miller: Strasburg’s eventual biographer. His career-from the most highly touted draft prospect ever to a possible Hall of Famer-is so much more compelling when it all happens in one jersey. The pick of Strasburg in the 2009 draft was the catalyst for a golden age of Washington baseball, climaxing with a World Series run in which Strasburg had an all-time great October. It seems plausible that he’s only peaking now, and the next seven years could comprise-in addition to an eventual decline-more postseason runs, Cy Young votes, milestone pursuits and franchise records. When it’s over, there will be a statue of him outside Nationals Park. They usually don’t put statues up for half careers.
Who is the biggest loser of Strasburg going back to the Nationals?
Schoenfield: The New York Mets. They’ve seen the Phillies sign Zack Wheeler, the Braves sign Cole Hamels and the Nationals re-sign Strasburg. Meanwhile, the Mets have … well, they traded for a center fielder who had a .280 OBP last season.
Doolittle: Padres fans. I don’t know if they even tried to sign Strasburg, though they should have been beating down his door. Inking the hometown kid to head up an emerging pitching staff would have been story book stuff. Of course, perhaps the scenario was always just a fantasy.
Miller: Besides the Mets and the Phillies–who now look like they’ll be fighting for third place again, at least in the short term and barring other major moves–it’s probably whomever ends up with Gerrit Cole. This Strasburg deal comes a day after we heard that the Yankees had offered Cole $245 million. If they really believed they had a shot with that number, they (and anybody else in the running) is going to need to adjust those expectations, by at least $50 million and maybe a lot more. Actually, it’s probably whomever doesn’t end up with Cole. Strasburg is no longer around as a fallback.
Now that Strasburg is returning to the Nationals, who is the favorite to land Anthony Rendon?
Schoenfield: I’ll go with the Rangers. They’ve signed Kye Gibson and Jordan Lyles to join Mike Minor and Lance Lynn in the rotation, but they still have a gaping hole at third base and the money to bring to Rendon back to his home state. Rendon is an intriguing fit for the Dodgers, but based on recent track record of how the Dodgers spend in free agency, the Rangers are more likely to give a bigger, longer-team contract.
Doolittle: Dodgers. Rendon and Cole are the only players left on the market sure to actually make the Dodgers better. Rendon seems like the more obtainable of the two at present.
Miller: Technically, it’s probably still the Nationals–almost always safer to pick the incumbent than one of the half-dozen other admirers–but if we’re assuming Strasburg’s signing makes this less likely, I’ll go with the Braves. If Josh Donaldson leaves, third base is their big hole, and adding a superstar like Rendon might be necessary to hold off the Nationals — who, it should be noted, had the better run differential last year and nearly chased down Atlanta.
Will the $245 million deal Strasburg is getting hold up as the biggest of the week?
Schoenfield: I’ll say yes (meaning, Cole won’t sign this week).
Doolittle: No! Let’s get greedy and sign them all while we’re here! But, yeah, probably not. Strasburg, we have to presume, simply didn’t want to leave a comfy home and wanted to get this over with and return to his life of low-key excellence. Cole and Rendon both have time to squeeze an even more focused market for them.
Miller: Yeah. I would expect Scott Boras to let the reality of this winter’s market-that if you’re bidding, you need to adjust your expectations upward-sink in. With no elite pitchers available on the trade market this offseason, Cole in particular can probably afford to wait.
Stephen Strasburg stays with Nats on $245M deal
That deal surpasses the previous high for a pitcher’s contract held by David Price when he signed a seven-year, $217 million deal with the Red Sox. Strasburg also has the highest annual average value, besting Zack Greinke‘s $31.5 million. Both records might not last long, with former Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole drawing interest from coast to coast.
Strasburg, who opted out of the final four years of his contract with the Nationals, entered free agency fresh off a regular season in which he posted a career-high 18 wins and led the National League with 209 innings pitched — no small measure for a pitcher who has battled injuries throughout his career.
He continued rolling in the playoffs. He became the first pitcher in major league history to win five games in a single postseason without a loss, his 47 strikeouts were tied for the second-most in a single postseason (Curt Schilling had 56 in 2001), and he posted a 1.98 ERA in six appearances overall.
The 31-year-old right-hander won two games against the Houston Astros in the World Series, including a pivotal Game 6 on the road in which he became the first starter to go at least eight innings in a World Series since Matt Harvey did so in Game 5 in 2015. The following night, Washington won Game 7 and Strasburg became the first No. 1 overall draft pick to be named World Series MVP.
The key to Strasburg’s success this past season was his increased use of his two best off-speed pitches — his power curveball, which was the most valuable curveball in the majors in 2019 per FanGraphs, and his plus changeup with good arm speed and late fading action. So while he still throws hard, averaging 93.9 mph on his four-seamer according to Statcast, he has been much better by throwing other pitches.
The big knock on Strasburg is his lack of durability. In eight full seasons, he has qualified for the ERA title just three times, falling three innings short in a fourth. He reached the threshold just twice in the past five seasons, missing about 10 starts in 2018 with injuries to his shoulder and neck.
In a career interrupted by Tommy John surgery shortly after his spectacular major league debut in 2010, Strasburg is 112-58 with a 3.17 ERA and 1,695 strikeouts in parts of 10 seasons.
ESPN’s Keith Law contributed to this report.
2019 MLB winter meetings rumors, dates, free-agent updates and predictions
Baseball’s winter meetings are underway in San Diego, beginning Monday and continuing through Thursday’s Rule 5 draft. With big-name free agents such as Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg narrowing their lists of potential landing spots and stars including Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor and Kris Bryant reportedly on the trade block this MLB offseason, it’s sure to be an exciting week of wheeling and dealing.
Start the fun with our experts’ predictions on which moves could shape these meetings and check back throughout the week for the latest news, rumors, buzz and analysis.
Key hot stove links
• Trades we want to see at the winter meetings
• Jeff Passan’s big winter meetings questions | Trade tiers
• Keith Law’s top 50 free agents (ESPN+) | Free-agent tracker
• A blockbuster move for all 30 teams
• Hot stove survey
MLB winter meetings predictions
We asked our ESPN MLB experts to weigh in on what they think could happen in San Diego. Here’s what they said.
Who will be the biggest name to sign during the winter meetings?
Anthony Rendon: Three votes (Alden Gonzalez, Jesse Rogers, Marly Rivera)
Rendon’s market seems more limited than that of Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, and he doesn’t seem like the type to want to wait around. — Gonzalez
The pitching market started fast but will slow down while top hitters start to come off the board. There’s none bigger than Rendon. — Rogers
There is no other position player on the market in Rendon’s league. Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg will be the talk of the town, but with so many teams interested, they might drive each other’s market up, and their signings could take a bit more time. — Rivera
Madison Bumgarner: Three votes (Bradford Doolittle, Sam Miller, David Schoenfield)
This winter’s relatively brisk market (compared to those of the past two winters, at least) has swept up only one Scott Boras client, and Boras is famously patient, so it wouldn’t shock me if his top clients (Cole, Rendon, Strasburg) stay unsigned for a few more weeks. — Miller
With Zack Wheeler off the market and Cole unavailable to all but a couple of teams, the tier for free-agent starters behind Cole and Stephen Strasburg is shrinking quickly, so pitching-hungry teams such as the White Sox, Twins and Braves need to pounce. — Doolittle
The Yankees have shouted their desire to sign Cole from the top of the Empire State Building, but don’t expect Cole to the Yankees (or Angels or Dodgers) to happen this week. With Boras doing the negotiating, a contract of this magnitude is unlikely to happen so soon, as the Yankees just met with Cole. Although the market is moving more quickly this offseason, I don’t expect any of the big three names (Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon) to seal a deal in San Diego. Let’s go with Bumgarner. — Schoenfield
Gerrit Cole: Two votes (Dan Mullen, Matt Marrone)
I know, I know. Scott Boras guys usually sign during the NCAA tournament, not before college football bowl season, but it seems like there is real traction here, especially given that the Yankees have ownership-level approval to offer Cole a record-setting deal. There are so few teams that could go there that maybe — just maybe — it’ll speed things up. — Mullen
The Yankees aren’t going to be beaten on this one. Except maybe by the Angels. Expect Cole’s suitors to pounce. — Marrone
What will be the biggest trade to go down in San Diego?
Kris Bryant: Two votes (Dan Mullen, Jesse Rogers)
Here’s a prediction: The Cubs will trade Bryant to the Braves for Max Fried and top prospects. — Rogers
If there’s a blockbuster deal that rocks the winter meetings, the Cubs seem to be the most likely candidates to make it. My gut says Bryant is slightly more likely to move this week than Willson Contreras or Anthony Rizzo, but no deal involving Chicago would surprise me here. — Mullen
Starling Marte: Two votes (Sam Miller, Bradford Doolittle)
Starling Marte to somewhere. There’s no great center-field option on the free-agent market, and that’s one of the positions on the field that a team can’t fake. — Miller
Given our diminished expectations for winter meetings trades, Marte is actually a pretty big name to move and one of the few impact players who seems readily available on the trade market, at least among those who wouldn’t require an acquiring team to empty the prospect vault. — Doolittle
Anthony Rizzo: One vote (Alden Gonzalez)
He’s relatively affordable for two more seasons, heads elsewhere, and the Cubs get a bounty of prospects in return. — Gonzalez
Francisco Lindor: One vote (David Schoenfield)
It would seem that Kris Bryant’s trade value is somewhat tied to where Rendon and Josh Donaldson end up. If, say, the Nationals or Rangers lose on both of those third basemen, their interest in Bryant would increase. That means a Bryant trade might have to wait. I’m still skeptical on whether Mookie Betts will be dealt at all. Of the big three trade candidates, Francisco Lindor is my pick as most likely to get traded this week. — Schoenfield
David Price: One vote (Matt Marrone)
Cole — and likely Stephen Strasburg — will soon shatter Price’s record free-agent deal for a pitcher. That is a testament to Cole, but it also shows that the market is hungry for pitching. Boston will find a way to unload a huge salary — if not Price’s, then maybe Nathan Eovaldi‘s — and keep Mookie Betts for at least one more year. — Marrone
Matthew Boyd: One vote (Marly Rivera)
Boyd was one of the pitchers the Yankees tried to acquire last year, but the asking price was deemed too high. With the Tigers mired in a rebuild, Al Avila will need to find a market for the talented but inconsistent left-hander. — Rivera
Which team is most likely to be the talk of the winter meetings?
New York Yankees: Four votes (Dan Mullen, Jesse Rogers, Matt Marrone, Marly Rivera)
If the Yankees leave San Diego with Gerrit Cole in pinstripes — or spend the next three days having everyone buzz about the possibility of it — there really isn’t anything anyone else can do that would have us talking more than that. — Mullen
Everyone knows the Yankees need starting pitching. Before it’s over, they’ll be linked to many available names. — Rogers
Is the Death Star fully operational? Whether or not the Yankees sign Cole this week, there’ll be plenty of buzz around the Bombers and baseball’s biggest free agent, not to mention the various other questions in the Bronx after the team’s second ALCS loss to the Astros in three years. — Marrone
Just how high will the Yankees be willing to go to outbid the Angels for Gerrit Cole? — Rivera
Atlanta Braves: Two votes (Sam Miller, David Schoenfield)
The Braves have already been active on midtier moves, but if they’re really pushing to join the superteam tier, they make sense as a destination for almost any headline name out there. — Miller
The Braves have a lot of potential to take this honor if they’re willing to up the payroll a little. They could be in on signing Donaldson or trading for Bryant. Maybe they still want to add a veteran starter to the rotation even after signing Cole Hamels. Heck, Dansby Swanson isn’t enough to block a potential Lindor trade (in fact, Swanson could be part of the deal). The Braves have drawn a hard line on their payroll under Liberty Media, but they need one more big star, and they have the financial and minor league resources to do it. — Schoenfield
Los Angeles Dodgers: One vote (Alden Gonzalez)
The Dodgers appear to be in on all the big names, on the trade market and in free agency, and now might finally be the time for Andrew Friedman to make a big splash. — Gonzalez
Los Angeles Angels: 1 vote (Bradford Doolittle)
With L.A.’s other team in spend mode and their need for starting pitching so acute, the Angels have the kind of pent-up desperation needed to push things in the market, perhaps more than any other club. — Doolittle
Who is one under-the-radar team to watch in San Diego?
Texas Rangers: Two votes (Alden Gonzalez, Dan Mullen)
They’re heading into a new ballpark, have unveiled new uniforms and need a new star to market around. — Gonzalez
The Rangers want to do something big as they get ready to move into their new ballpark. The question is if they find a free-agent or big trade fit that takes them from a team to watch to one actually making moves. — Mullen
Cincinnati Reds: Two votes (Jesse Rogers, Marly Rivera)
Perhaps it won’t be so under the radar, considering they already inked Mike Moustakas to a deal, but the aggressive nature of the Reds — who see an opening in the NL Central — might come as a surprise to many. — Rogers
The Reds indeed sense an opportunity to contend in the NL Central and have already made some significant offseason moves. — Rivera
San Diego Padres: Two votes (David Schoenfield, Matt Marrone)
A.J. Preller has already made two interesting trades for the Padres, bringing in Tommy Pham, Zach Davies and Trent Grisham, but this roster is hardly a finished product that can contend with the Dodgers or Braves for NL supremacy. The rotation still could use a veteran leader with more upside than Davies, and an upgrade over Manuel Margot in center field is a possibility. How about signing Hyun-Jin Ryu or Bumgarner and trading for Starling Marte? — Schoenfield
The home team is already off and running and won’t stop this week. — Marrone
Milwaukee Brewers: One vote (Bradford Doolittle)
Milwaukee has shed talent like a molting snake since the World Series ended, but with just two more years of Christian Yelich ensured, it’s hard to believe that the departures have been a harbinger of a soft rebuild. — Doolittle
Arizona Diamondbacks: One vote (Sam Miller)
The Diamondbacks are probably a big bat away and seem to have already successfully, admirably completed their flash rebuild, so it’s a little surprising not to hear them more frequently speculated about (speaking of “Starling Marte to somewhere,” now that I think of it.) — Miller
What’s the one thing everyone will be talking about on the plane home?
The winter meetings are back! They have been exceedingly dull the past two years, but this time, the big stars will sign and major trades will be made, and baseball observers everywhere will be shocked multiple times over, just like the old days. I’m going to will this into existence. — Gonzalez
Gerrit Cole. Whether or not Cole signs this week, his name will be prevalent throughout our stay in San Diego, just as it is now, and if he hasn’t committed to a new team by Thursday, our collective appetite for news about him will grow ever more ravenous. — Doolittle
How long will it be before Cole, Strasburg and Rendon sign? — Schoenfield
Teams overpaying for starting pitching and the exorbitant numbers being discussed regarding Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. — Rivera
I’ll go a little outside the box here and say the Astros. If Cole signs, what he means to INSERT TEAM HERE will certainly dominate. But the sign-stealing scandal remains the biggest story in baseball. How — and when — will it be resolved? — Marrone
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